Saturday 24 February 2018

Kerry blow-torch trap horror

IN an act of time-delayed perversion, two youths had tied a cat by the leg to a peg embedded in sand several metres from the slowly encroaching tideline. As the sea advanced, the animal grew more frantic as it scrambled to stay ahead of the water. The youths lay on the strand, laughing and drinking beer. They had picked up the cat outside a house on their way to the beach.

A parallel narrative described a farmer's impatience with a sheepdog pup which was not reaching quickly enough the necessary requirements of flock husbandry.

The cat was slowly and pitifully drowned by the incoming sea. The farmer eventually threw the puppy over a cliff to its death on the rocks below.

When the author, John McGahern, once told me that this horrific story (titled Creatures of the Earth) had been earlier declined by an international magazine, I felt the theme could have been a deciding factor.

In Ireland, perhaps because we are closer to the earth, we seem at times to be inured to such matters. For my own part, in a lifetime of newspaper work, I had come upon as bad, and worse, in real life, and not necessarily from rural Ireland which by times gets the blame for every dog's dinner.

A horror story to equal anything from the creative imagination is revealed in an e-mail from ICAB, the Irish Council Against Blood Sports. The heading tells all: "Blow-torched birds prompt call for cruel trap ban".

Magpies, and some crows, had been caught in Larsen traps in Kerry and had been burned to death while imprisoned.

The original news story appeared in The Kerryman and was described as "one of the most sickening cases of animal cruelty ever seen in the county". A "barbaric gang" is blamed, and a local wildlife conservationist Mike Mitchell is quoted as saying: "They are simply getting a kick out of it ... by burning them alive ... This is psychopathic behaviour."

Larsen traps use a live decoy to attract other birds of its kind. They get curious and fall through a spring door. Their use has economic advantages in magpie and scald- crow culling.

Magpies, which have reached almost pest proportions, according to one prominent naturalist, get a bad press as predators of songbird eggs and nestlings. But this is the way of nature and in fact they will seek out and eat almost anything they can find.

Years ago, in this column, I wrote about the use of Larsen traps in magpie control -- where they might be located and how they could be made. There were complaints, and support. These birds were attractive and intelligent. They were also the "pimproll gangsters" of the hedgerows.

Now I am embarrassed at ICAB's generosity in quoting a supportive piece, rather than a negative one, from an early column. This related to the famous naturalist of a century ago, WH Hudson, who wrote of a caged magpie pushing scraps to a robin with a damaged beak which visited the prisoner daily.

The burning alive of any wild creature is a horrific business. ICAB has brought the incidents in Kerry to the attention of Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan.

It is also calling for a complete legal ban on Larsen traps which, incidentally, is the case in Denmark where they originated.

Sunday Independent

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